Apocalyptic scenes in the wake of the NATO bombing of Kosovo refugees

 

Carbonised, burnt or dismembered bodies, smashed tractors and trailers: the bombing of refugees on the move in Kosovo by NATO planes offered an apocalyptic vision yesterday.

Yugoslav authorities said 75 people were killed and 26 injured in the bombing in western Kosovo on Wednesday of two convoys by NATO planes. One convoy was hit shortly after 2 p.m. local time on the Terzinski Most bridge on the River Eranik, near Bistrazin, witnesses said.

Belgrade said the convoy was accompanied by police escorting refugees back to their homes in the area.

Almost 24 hours after the incident, an AFP reporter saw 13 bodies in the area. The bodies of three girls, two women and a man were lined up on blankets. Close by, six burnt bodies could be seen.

One of the tractors was totally burnt, as was the person driving it. Around 100 refugees were still hiding in nearby forests.

A police vehicle, almost totally destroyed, could still be seen on the road. According to Serb authorities, two policemen in the car were injured.

"I saw planes releasing bombs. I have never seen them flying so low," Mr Agim Silaj (32) said. He estimated that the refugee convoy consisted of some 5,000 people. His 13-member family survived - although, he said, the convoy was targeted three times.

When the first bomb fell, they were some 200 metres from the bridge. "We did not understand what was happening, we speeded up, and two more bombs hit the convoy. Some of those who survived fled towards Bistrazin. But there we heard the third explosion," he said.

The AFP reporter went to the scene yesterday with no police or military escort, together with two Greek television crews and a US journalist.

In Bistrazin, no bomb craters were obvious, but debris covered the ground. Fragments of bombs could be seen, including a piece of green metal some 40 centimetres long with a propellor at the end.

Fragments of similar devices have been seen at other sites bombed by NATO.

In the hospital in Prizren, reporters saw 16 injured. All confirmed they had heard aircraft and three or four explosions. There were no military vehicles around, they said.

"Our guys are not crazy to fly their planes when there are NATO F-16s in the sky," a hospital officer, Col Kiril Cvetinov, said.

Mr Ismet Syla, from the village of Molic, said he had been driving a tractor and trailer with 25 people on it.

"Three of them were killed and 11 were injured. We heard and saw the planes. We jumped off our tractors, but the others did not have time to do so," he said.

In the village of Meja, more to the north-west, near the border with Albania, another refugee convoy was bombed shortly after 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said NATO destroyed an important railway bridge yesterday on the line from Belgrade to the Montenegrin port of Bar, Yugoslavia's main outlet to the Adriatic Sea.

"A NATO airplane cut off one of the biggest bridges on Lim river, on the Belgrade-to-Bar railway, between Prijepolje and Priboj, near Donja Bistrica," Tanjug said.

It said this was the second attack on the bridge, located near Serbia's border with Montenegro, following a similar air strike on Wednesday night which resulted in only limited damage.

Earlier, several explosions rocked the outskirts of the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, seconds after NATO warplanes were seen flashing through the sky, eyewitnesses said.

If confirmed as NATO strikes, they would be the first in Montenegro - whose government is pro-Western despite its alliance with Serbia to form Yugoslavia - in more than a week.